11 Feb 2011

Egypt: euphoria in Cairo as President Mubarak steps down

After 18 days of mass protests across Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule, the embattled leader resigns from power and a military council is put in place to run the country’s affairs.

In a brief statement on Egyptian state television Vice President Omar Suleiman said due to the uprising and continues unrest on the streets President Hosni Mubarak had decided to step down from power.

The responsibility to run the country has been transferred to the military.

Egypt’s defence minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is the head of the Higher Military Council that has now taken control of the country, according to reports.

A ruling party official said earlier that Mubarak and his family had left Cairo for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where there is a presidential residence. He added that this proved Mubarak had handed powers to deputy Omar Suleiman.

After hearing the news key opposition figure and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said: “This is the greatest day of my life. The country has been liberated”.

Across the country Egyptians flooded the streets in celebration. Cairo, Alexandria and other cities were full of cars honking horns and people waving flags.

Passersby congratulated one another and people shouted slogans such as “He is out and we are in!”

Egypt: Euphoria in Cairo as President Mubarak steps down

Earlier Egypt’s powerful military gave guarantees that promised democratic reforms would be carried out but angry protesters intensified an uprising against Mubarak by marching on the presidential palace and mobbing the state television hub.

The army’s gesture was an effort to defuse an 18-day-old revolt unprecedented in modern Egypt but, in ignoring the key demand of protesters for Mubarak’s ouster now, it failed to stop turmoil disrupting the economy and rattling the Middle East.

Mubarak had promised only that he would not stand for re-election in September and that he would preside over reforms until then.

But it was not enough for many of the hundreds of thousands of protesters who rallied in cities across the Arab world’s most populous and influential country on Friday, fed up with high unemployment, a corrupt elite and police repression.

Addressing what could be a potential power shift in the Middle East, US President Barack Obama said Mubarak’s resignation was the will of the people and called on the military to ensure a transition to “genuine democracy”.

“The people of Egypt have spoken,” Obama told reporters. “Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.”

In Britain David Cameron called for “a move to a civilian and democratic rule” in Egypt.

The Prime Minister said the departure of 82-year-old Mubarak offered his country a “precious moment of opportunity”.

Assets ‘frozen’

Mubarak’s fall came after a violent uprising in Tunisia which saw President Ben Ali toppled in a matter of weeks. The Egyptian president has become the second Arab leader this year to stand aside following popular demand.

As earlier protests spread to Yemen, Syria and Sudan, experts warned of a domino effect in the region.

Foreign ministry officials in Switzerland said that assets possibly belonging to Mubarak have been frozen.

“I can confirm that Switzerland has frozen possible assets of the former Egyptian president with immediate effect,” spokesman Lars Knuchel said.

However, he would not disclose how much money had been blocked. The move follows the freezing of assets belonging to Tunisia’s former President Ben Ali.

All of Cairo has come to dance and celebrate 
I have been out near Tahir Square and by the TV station, writes International Editor Lindsey Hilsum. The noise is deafening. It seems that all of Cairo has come to dance and scream and shout and celebrate.

Every time I tried to speak to someone or do a piece to camera I was surrounded by chanting crowds. Everyone is beside themselves with joy.

When people find out that Switzerland has frozen assets believed to belong to the Mubarak family that will make them really happy. Corruption is one of the biggest issues and one of the things people have been most angry about.

But is this really a revolution? President Mubarak has stepped down and the army higher command has stepped up. Will the army really usher in democracy?

Read more on the World News Blog

Tahrir Square claims victory

Before the announcement on state television hundreds of thousands of people continued to pour into central Cairo demanding the president step down.

The army gave guarantees that promised democratic reforms would be carried out, but protesters angry at Mubarak’s refusal to leave on Thursday marched on the presidential palace and the state television tower.

Egypt: Euphoria in Cairo as President Mubarak steps down

For more than two weeks Egypt has faced unprecedented anti-government protests and strikes across the country which has left at least 300 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

Protesters said they would bow to no concessions and would only accept the president’s resignation.

Crowds waved flags, cried, cheered and embraced when they heard Friday’s announcement. Drivers honked car horns and pedestrians shouted “Hurrah for Egypt”.

“I’m one of the ones who helped take him down. I’ve been out here for 17 days. The future of Egypt is now in the hands of the people,” said singer Hani Sobhy, 31, celebrating in the square.

World reacts

Meanwhile, Israel reacted coldly to the resignation of Mubarak, calling for a continuation of its peaceful relations with Cairo.

The Camp David peace accord was signed by the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979, and a withdrawal from the agreement by the latter could throw the region into chaos.

“It’s too early to foresee how (the resignation) will affect things,” a senior Israeli official said.

“We hope that the change to democracy in Egypt will happen without violence and that the peace accord will remain.”

Jerusalem will be nervous that Egypt’s Defence Minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and head of the Higher Military Council that took control of the country has served in three wars against Israel; the 1956 Suez Crisis and both the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars.

In Gaza, Palestinians set off fireworks and fired shots to celebrate the resignation of Mubarak, and the Islamist group Hamas called on Egypt’s new rulers to change his policies.

“The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

“Such a victory was the result of the sacrifices and the steadfastness of the Egyptian people,” he said.

“We call upon the new Egyptian leadership to take an immediate decision to lift the blockade of Gaza and open Rafah (border) crossing permanently to allow people’s free movement and in order for the reconstruction process of Gaza to begin”.